THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ANCHORAGE - Lt. Donald Cook landed on the ravaged
beaches of Normandy in 1944 with an eerie assignment: the 24-year-old
was replacing another Lt. Cook, killed the day before, on D-Day.
"As far as I was concerned, there were only two ways out of
it," said Cook, now 82 and a longtime Fairbanks resident. "You were
either dead or wounded. So I was lucky. I was wounded."
Cook would spend 1 1/2 years in a hospital, recovering from
a German sniper's bullet that blew apart his right arm. He later spent
30 years teaching mining engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
He didn't attend ceremonies in France marking Normandy's 50th anniversary
eight years ago.
He wasn't ready to go back, he said.
But Cook was ready to remember
Normandy on Monday. He was one of six Alaska veterans who gathered at
the American Legion Post 1 to receive the
Web posted Tuesday, May 28, 2002
Normandy survivors honored
Alaska veterans recount their role in deadly WWII
Honored vets: Six of the seven Alaskans receiving
the Normandy Medal of the Jubilee of Liberty wait to be called during
a Memorial Day ceremony Monday at American Legion Post No. 1 in Anchorage.
From left they are: Lenard Reel, 79, of Homer; Oliver Bickar, 78, of
Sitka; Daniel Furlong, 79, of Kenai; Clayton Helgeson, 78, of
Soldotna; John Hastie of Anchorage; and Donald Cook, 82, of Fairbanks.
Jim Lavrakas / The Anchorage
|Normandy Medal of the Jubilee of Liberty, an honor for veterans
who served there between June 6 and Aug. 31, 1944.
U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens gave
medals to Cook; Oliver "Porky" Bickar of Sitka; Daniel Furlong of
Kenai; John Hastie of Anchorage; Clayton Helgeson of Soldotna; and
Lenard Reel of Homer. Ernest Glanz of Anchorage received a medal but
was unable to attend.
Stevens praised the veterans,
shaking hands and returning salutes as he passed out certificates and
medals. He discussed ties between Normandy and Sept. 11 - both decisive
moments, he said, amid long battles surrounding the threats against
"This is a remembrance
of what went on over there," Cook said.
The Normandy invasion had
Allied forces overtaking the western European coastline in a cross-channel
assault that required getting ashore and busting through the Atlantic
Wall, about 2,400 miles of concrete bunkers, barbed wire, tank ditches
and land mines. After the beaches were secured, it took almost a year
to reach and defeat Germany in spring 1945.
The six men honored at Monday's ceremony sat in a straight-backed
line in the front row, sometimes shutting their eyes or gazing thoughtfully
"This is the day we all huddle up a little bit and think of
the people we left behind," said Stevens, a World War II veteran and
a Post 1 member. "It is important for us all to remember not just what
World War II meant to us, the survivors, but to generations to come."
Some of the men briefly addressed the crowd.
(continued at upper right)
"I'd like to accept this medal for the friends we left in Normandy,"
said Furlong, a sergeant in the Army's 508th Parachute, 82nd Airborne
Division. "They're the ones who really made the sacrifice."
Hastie used his moment at the microphone to ask Stevens for
"I want to hit you up for an appointment with my 17-year-old
daughter to get her into one of the (military) academies," said Hastie,
pulling rousing laughter from the crowd.
Hastie arrived in Normandy as a private, first class, several
weeks after D-Day.
"The German air force was still active, bombed us," said Hastie,
who has grenade fragments buried in his legs. "Our baptism by fire was
in the hedgerows in France. The Germans were vigorously trying to cut
us off. They were unsuccessful."
Bickar arrived on D-Day at just 19 years old.
"What do I remember? Very little," he said. "It was all a dream.
A big dream. I was seasick and so scared and mixed up. After I hit the
beach, and got my feet settled, I came out of it - and became the man,
the soldier, I could be."
Bickar was 21 when he returned home, stronger, wiser, more
obedient and responsible, he said. And he returned with memories.
"I remember how you treated one another, our buddies," Bickar
said. "Like one buddy of mine, laying there. His last ounce of blood
going out and he said, 'Tell Mama I said hello.' " Bickar paused and
nodded slowly. "Things like that."
[Note: Highlighting of
Daniel Furlong's name was added for ease of our 508th web site readership.]